How Do You Grade Your Books?

I noticed in another thread that some of us began talking about the grading of books in relation to furigana and kanji. I wanted to know what factors and components everyone else thinks about when grading/rating a difficulty level for a book on Natively? I want to begin keeping these in mind when I’m grading so that my grades and reviews are more helpful for others.

Personally, I don’t always take furigana into account when grading. This isn’t because I don’t deem furigana useful, but because I often know the word without knowing the kanji for it. For example, the word こわい is considered to be an N4 word, but the kanji for it (怖い) is N3 and it’s a joyou kanji that’s taught in junior high. When I began noticing that a good portion of the kanji I was searching were words that I did understand, I stopped only trying to find books that had furigana included. I started branching out and reading more books that I thought I couldn’t touch yet and now I know even more kanji because I’m enjoying reading new things. I will admit, though, it would be cool for a “furigana” filter option to show up when searching on the website, for those who are looking for series that are utilizing furigana.

Instead, I tend to focus on the difficulty I had when reading it and the complexity of the sentences and level of grammar structures used. On average, did I spend the majority of my time looking up new grammar structures; were those structures at the level that the book was graded at? When I’m reading with the bookclub, our shared vocab lists have pivot tables that show us the frequency of the JLPT level words that pop up.


I’ve talked about this before on the WaniKani forums so will be brief here and can expand if needed:

  • Spread of vocab. I don’t rate a crime book hard for having standard crime vocab, I will bump it if we’re talking about arson AND theft AND kidnapping AND embezzlement. Or if we’re talking about crime AND science terms. If the vocab is large and applicable to multiple domains I bump the rating, even if I know all those words already.

  • Writing style. I have a vague sense of what N3-N1 grammar structures are, but honestly most don’t stick out to me especially excepting formal/硬い patterns. So generally I’m more concerned with how flowery the writing is, is it straight forward or ‘make you think’ type, more poetic, etc.

  • Age of vocab/grammar. I read a ton of Aozora short stories and while I still struggle to grade them well, I always make a note of it in my reviews.

  • I have actually commented on two manga series that I felt the full furigana made them appear deceptively easy for the vocab spread and grammar being used. For novels I generally don’t notice furigana unless the author isn’t putting it on character names when they’re introduced*.

*I hate that so much.


Usually, I take in consideration the following:

  • sentence structure. Long winding sentences (e.g. those in 涼宮ハルヒ」シリーズ (series) | L36) are harder to read than short, straightforward ones (e.g. those in orange (series) | L23)
  • range of vocabulary
  • technicality of vocabulary. Even if the vocabulary is not all over the place, if it’s so specific even a native would not know those words, it will increase the difficulty.
  • uncommon kanji without furigana
  • uncommon grammar (e.g. dated speech pattern)

Edit: all in all, pretty much the same as @cat, I guess :slight_smile:


lol I hate when furigana makes it seem like it’s going to be an easier read! That’s why I’ve kinda begun telling people that furigana doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s going to be an easier read, but that it’s going to be easier to look up the words that you don’t know.

I forgot all about the poetic/flowery language! I might need to go change some of my grades. I want to translate officially, so I often translate whatever I’m reading on a document and send it to some of my Japanese friends so we can talk about what I misunderstood and things that are hard to convey…I forgot to take that into account with grading for some of my favorite series.

If you had to choose a manga series for beginners (besides the infamous Yotsuba) what would you choose?


so if you’re just reading a regular slice-of-life, how do you decide the range of vocabulary since it’s normally going to be about daily life occurrences?

I know you didn’t ask me specifically, but if you don’t mind me answering… I often recommend Aria the Masterpiece as a first manga. I think it’s a good choice for two reasons:

  1. It does use full furigana.
  2. The main character uses standard Japanese, generally in polite form and without slang.

Naturally some other characters do use less standard Japanese and/or more slang, but when the main character is easy to understand it goes a long way. Besides that, it’s largely slice of life. There is some sci-fi thrown in (as you’d expect from a manga that takes place on a terraformed Mars), but overall it focuses more on the slice of life than on the sci-fi, which keeps it on the easier side.


Prefer @seanblue or really anyone’s answer but mine :sweat_smile: I’ve read… <10 manga series ever? I’m much more of a book person. The only “beginner” manga I’ve read is Fruits Basket and I want to say that’s in the 20s on Natively.


I want to hear anyone’s opinion, so thank you! I actually spoke to you on discord :relaxed:(im shay) and I honestly think that your reviews and your list of reads on your profile are amazing! I want to make a list of series to recommend to beginners that are of different types and genres, so I’ll definitely add that to the list.

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That’s going to be lowest difficulty for me.

Yes, people would need to be warned against the first few pages and just skip if needed.

I would go with ふらいんぐうぃっち (on top of ARIA already mentioned). It’s one of the easiest manga I’ve ever read. Mostly just slice-of-life, with a tiny bit of witch/magic related words in there.


Oh, then which novel (light novel, children’s novel, etc) would you suggest? I’d love to compile a list. :heart:

Ah, I have seen that pop up on there. I haven’t read it because it’s not my typical cup of tea. What novel or light novel would you recommend? I’m currently reading 夜カフェ 1 | L22 and かがみの孤城 | L27 for myself, but I definitely know that I cannot recommend the latter for beginners.

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Better than “with a little bit of divination / fortune telling thrown in” as in うらら迷路帖, which in that case means “with a little bit a classical Japanese thrown in”. :joy:


lol, my tastes are so skewed that my recommendations for beginners are…not the best. I favor yakuza stories, royalty stories, and the isekais that keep putting people in settings that are clearly modeled after Victorian-period England; so the speaking styles are all non-standard. :joy::joy:This is why I need to make a list so that I can say “this one won’t make you feel stupid because it’s not going to be using Kansai-ben to talk about cutting off someone’s pinky and sinking them into the ocean.”


Sounds like I can’t help you if you wouldn’t recommend かがみの孤城 to beginners. The only books I’ve read that Natively classifies as easier than かがみの孤城 are 霧のむこうのふしぎな町 | L25 and 時をかける少女 | L25, both of which I think were pretty bad.

By the way, can I ask why you wouldn’t recommend かがみの孤城 to beginners? If it’s just because of the kanji usage, they recently released a full furigana version. Or did you find it not beginner friendly for another reason?


I overall probably rate based on how long it takes me to read pages.
Larger text more spacing generally will make it easier to read. If something reads very dense and I have to double check a lot of word meanings or kanji readings then I would rate something harder. Everything I have been reading lately has fairly straightforward writing, so I am not really considering that whole part of Japanese.

Honestly I agree with most of the difficulties scores that have been assigned here already.

Sometimes with these fantasy Isekai books they have kanji compounds that I know the meaning based on the kanji, but I am not really sure about the correct reading. But I guess it’s not so important to actually know the correct or accepted reading so I don’t really worry about those.


I appreciate that sentiment, but thinking on this I don’t think I’d really be a great person to ask about anything for beginners. It’s been a few years since I was one, and I didn’t actually read much beginner material, I just threw myself into adult literature and struggled through from pure determination :sweat_smile: I will note that was after I’d gotten comfortable with N3 grammar and was thinking “so…what next?”. I gather most beginners start reading before that point, which is wiser.


I love those! If we are still talking about “beginner” recommendations (i.e. the easiest possible) I would go with


I think the way I grade things is generally the same way as other people above have stated. Generally its by how complicated the sentences are, how common/obscure the vocabulary is, typical sentence length, does it use a lot of idioms/expressions that are uncommon, etc.

As far as beginner recommendations go, I’d agree with ふらいんぐうぃっち above and also mention はなにあらし はなにあらし 1 | L17. The latter uses a bit more casual speech styles I think, but it is just a romance/slice of life story, so no witch/magic vocabulary at least. This genre does not appear to be what you’re looking for though, so can’t help anymore there.


Oh, that’s cool that they released a full furigana version. I’ll bookmark it!
I normally wouldn’t recommend it because of certain grammar structures and vocab. (and some people avoid a novel of that length like the plague). Though, it is true that it depends on the person. If they’re looking to challenge themselves right off the bat, then I would recommend it as something I’m currently enjoying. But I try to recommend things that someone may be able to finish in a shorter amount of time to give that boost of confidence for them to move onto the next book. (rather than them thinking "i’ve been reading the same book for the last 3 months.) I seriously can’t see myself recommending it to someone at the N5 level as their first thing to read.


Ah, didn’t even think about the length. Definitely wouldn’t recommend a 550 page novel as someone’s first book.

Personally I would not recommend any book to someone at N5 level. From personal experience, getting a good way into N4 would be a good idea before jumping into a book.